The Agony and the Ecstasy
When Julia asked her to come to Cedar Point, Astrid had said yes without thinking. She'd never been a fan of amusement parks, but she was a sucker for smart girls, especially smart girls like Julia.
The car jolted into place and Astrid's heart lurched with the realization that it was too late to back out. She clung to her lap bar, horrified that there wasn't an over-the-shoulder harness. A mountain of wood and iron loomed before her. Why was the top half of her body left unrestrained?
Beside her, Julia squealed, her anticipatory glee in total opposition to everything Astrid felt.
They were in the same biology lab. Julia was the one who knew the right answers while Astrid struggled to keep afloat. They'd spent a flirty evening studying for midterms, so when Julia suggested going to the park, Astrid had assumed it'd be a date. That was, until Julia had arrived at her dorm with a van full of friends, dashing all of Astrid's hopes. Almost.
"You're gonna love this," Julia said now, squeezing her arm.
Clickity-clickity. Clackity-clackity. Even the chain lift was terrifying. Astrid had heard it from the ground, of course, but up there—damn, how had they gotten so high already?—the noise surrounded her. Her chest reverberated with it until it ached.
No. Not the noise. She was holding her breath.
Astrid let it go in a sharp, misty huff.
She stole a glance at Julia. Julia had taken off her glasses as soon as the ride started, and her fingertips peeked from the long sleeves of her hoodie. Her eyes were bright in the weak glow of the park lights. A curl sprang free from her ponytail, whipping across cheeks flushed pink with cold. She tucked it behind one ear.
She wasn't even holding on.
The car shuddered, seeming to pause before continuing its climb. Astrid thought she heard a clang in the midst of a clackity-clackity and she glanced, panicked, over her shoulder. Big mistake. Lake Erie loomed far beneath them, dark like a void cut into the earth.
She was sure she was about to die.
"You good?" Julia asked, her brow furrowed with concern.
Besides the terror of impending death at the end of an endless uphill track? Astrid was afraid to look up to see how far they still had to go.
"I'm okay," she managed, trying to smile.
"This is my absolute favorite rollercoaster in the whole world."
How did one survive enough of these things to even have a favorite?
Astrid questioned her own sanity. She'd obviously followed this girl to her doom.
But then Julia's hand covered hers, gave it a quick squeeze. It stole her breath; Astrid was definitely going to die.
How did you even know if you were on a date?
Before she could give the question any thought, everything changed. The sound of the chain lift abruptly stopped. The jerky, clanking violence was over. For one surreal instant, the whole car was floating, gliding through the air more peacefully than she'd ever felt before.
Then came the screaming.
It took a moment for Astrid to understand, for the time-stop illusion to shatter. The small train of cars in front of theirs was disappearing before her eyes, rolling off the peak into a drop she couldn't even see to anticipate.
Then, for a fraction of a second, she did see it—the concave hillside, a thousand times worse than straight down.
Astrid's mind broke and her stomach was pulled into her throat; her hands throbbed, clutching the lap bar with all her strength. She was lifted right out of her seat, weightless and screaming. Adrenaline stole her perception of time and space as the coaster banked sharply before throwing them down yet another steep incline.
Gradually, Astrid became aware of Julia once more. Her hands were flung overhead, her face radiant with joy. Julia laughed, leaning clumsily into Astrid, close enough that one dark curl tickled her face. "I love this ride!"
Astrid didn't even understand how she could process that feather touch, how she was functioning as a human being while the thrilling torture ride continued. A twist made her feel light as air. A sharp turn made her gasp. It was only then that Astrid realized she'd stopped screaming.
A flash of light snagged her attention—they'd zipped past a black box that must‘ve been a camera.
"I'm so buying that picture!" Julia leaned close to be heard, the ride jostling her cold lips against Astrid's earlobe.
By the time they reached the series of bumps at the end—bunny hills, Julia called them—Astrid's fear had dissolved into euphoria. Her heart throbbed painfully in her chest and the cold air burned her overexerted lungs, but her wobbly legs felt light, their muscles energized as she climbed out of the car.
She stumbled against Julia, who only laughed and put her arm around Astrid's waist. "Easy. You're coaster-drunk." Her gleeful, bright-eyed face made Astrid feel like she could do anything in the world.
"Is this a date?" she blurted.
They paused, halfway to the photo hut where their group waited. Astrid wanted to yank her words back in. Maybe it was better not to know, to never know.
Julia reached out one hand, smoothing Astrid's tousled hair. "I sure hope so."
Later, Astrid didn't know where she found the nerve. Maybe it was one of those intrinsic reactions to near-death moments. She tilted Julia's face up to hers and kissed her, right there on the ramp.
"Let's ride again," Julia whispered against her lips.
Astrid could only nod.
"Just wait," Julia murmured, "till you try the front seat."
At least Astrid would die happy.